Tulalip Tribal Court AlterNative Sentencing Program

"To pull that canoe, you have to pull together."

By Honoring Nations

Honoring Nations 2006 Awardee

Born out of a need to create a judicial system that Tulalip citizens can trust and that also helps offenders to recover, the Tulalip Tribal Court Alternative Sentencing Program supports development of a safe, healthy, and law abiding community. Beginning with the Tulalip Alternative Court and now backed by the entire Tulalip justice system, the nation's strategies for implementing Tulalip law now better reflect the sentiments of one of its traditional sayings, “To pull that canoe, you have to pull together.”

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The Land and the Law

The Tulalip Reservation was reserved for the use and benefit of Indian tribes and bands signatory to the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. It was established to provide a permanent home for the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skagit, Suiattle, Samish and Stillaguamish Tribes and allied bands living in the region. 

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In 1996, the Nation was confronted with social problems such as crime, violence, and drug use. State and county authorities were unable to effectively police the reservation, and much of drug-related crime and violence went effectively unchecked. The Tulalip Tribes sought means to provide for their citizens safety and offenders' futures in more personal, immediate and culturally-grounded ways. The Alternative Sentencing Program has proven to be a key component of the effort.

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Holistic Resourcing

The Tribes recognized they had resources available to them, within and outside its community. Retrocession fortified the Tribes' assertions of sovereignty, so it knew it could mandate and legislate how to best implement a new system. The final piece was the realization that the Tribes were well-positioned to create a justice system that valued citizens and contributed to a healthy community.

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The nation upgraded its court facility and expanded its collaboration with the Northwest Intertribal Court System. The Tribes also developed a close relationship with the University of Washington clinical law program to provide counsel for needy defendants. With these important partnerships in place, the Tribes were ready to more actively assert control over the nation's criminal justice system.

John Rae NYCHonoring Nations

“To pull that canoe, you have to pull together.”

Seeking a system tailored to their community, the police chief and criminal court judge, with the backing of the Legislature, convened all those they saw as necessary to create a new way of approaching justice. The subsequent meetings laid the groundwork for the Tulalip Alternative Sentencing Program and culminated in new procedures and case processing. The Tribes devised a system that focuses on the mental, physical, and spiritual health of offenders, while incorporating cultural values. 

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John Rae NYC, From the collection of: Honoring Nations
John Rae NYC, From the collection of: Honoring Nations
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If other services are not successful in correcting behaviors, the Alternative Sentencing Program also offers the Healing to Wellness Court (also known as the drug court). The focus is on correcting behavior, not penalizing citizens.

The Alternative Sentencing Program has made great gains against crime on the reservation. In only 3 years since the Program's implementation, 25%of the participants in the Program do not re-offend, as compared to only 7-9% in the county. Anecdotal evidence is also strong: the police chief reports violent crime is drastically dropping, cases of resisting arrest are almost non-existent, gang activity is declining, and there is a substantial decrease in the number of outstanding warrants.

John Rae NYCHonoring Nations

The Alternative Sentencing Program is a case of the Tulalip Tribes reclaiming and strengthening sovereignty within a PL 83-280 state and creating a culturally appropriate justice system. By making the reservation safer, and by focusing on recovery and healing rather than punishment, the Alternative Sentencing Program has improved Tulalip Tribes citizens' lives and the environment they live in.

John Rae NYCHonoring Nations


A prerequisite to the implementation of culturally grounded approaches to criminal justice is the assertion of jurisdiction over criminal matters; appropriate intergovernmental arrangements make this possible even in PL 83-280 states. Effective tribal criminal codes, the development of accompanying tribal institutions, and clearly specified partner roles and responsibilities strengthen tribal sovereignty and promote productive intergovernmental cooperation on criminal justice issues.

By focusing on restorative justice, interagency cooperation, and offenders' recovery and well being, the tribal justice system can become a key actor in improving community health.

Credits: Story

Tulalip Alternative Sentencing Program
The Tulalip Tribes

Text provided by:
The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Honoring Nations Awards 2006

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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